CHARLESTON – A statewide legal reform group is speaking out as attorneys from a Mississippi law firm behind one of the biggest cases in West Virginia court history – and one of the biggest news stories involving a state Supreme Court justice – make their way to the Mountain State again.
On Aug. 8, attorneys from the McHugh Fuller Law Group step into a Harrison County courtroom for a case representing a family against CMO Management, a nursing home company. HCR ManorCare is also named as a defendant in the new case. The case is similar to the 2011 Kanawha County case in which the firm was awarded a nearly $100 million verdict on behalf of a family against HCR ManorCare. The case was appealed and concluded in 2014 when the state Supreme Court awarded $17 million to the Douglas family represented by McHugh Fuller.
Months later, the case was back in the spotlight when an ABC News report detailed how attorney Michael Fuller purchased a Learjet from Charleston attorney Scott Segal, the husband of then-state Supreme Court Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis, for just over $1 million and that Fuller helped raise thousands of dollars for Davis’ 2012 re-election campaign.
Fuller returns to West Virginia Aug. 8 in pursuit of another major verdict. Proceedings in Wanda Williams v. CMO Management, another nursing home conglomerate, begin next week in Clarksburg.
“We strongly believe that every West Virginian deserves a fair day in court,” said Roman Stauffer, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. “The information surrounding the million-dollar Learjet transaction between Justice Robin Davis’ husband and the personal injury lawyer who then appeared before the Justice Davis raises serious questions about the appearance of impropriety and about our code of judicial conduct.
“We question whether Justice Davis may have erred in not disclosing this million-dollar transaction to her colleagues on the court and the parties in this case. Further, the relationship likely should have been disclosed in every case that this lawyer and law firm has presented before the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.”
Stauffer said a survey at the time showed that 82 percent of West Virginians thought Davis should have disclosed the jet purchase when the Supreme Court heard the appeal.
“Regardless of public opinion, West Virginia CALA believes that, under the Code of Judicial Conduct, the relationship should have been disclosed,” Stauffer said. “Surprisingly, following this lack of disclosure, Justice Davis continues to hear cases involving the law firm associated with the Learjet deal even after this transaction was revealed on national television.
“Some millionaire personal injury lawyers seem to be driven by greed and lawsuit riches rather than the pursuit of justice. They fly into West Virginia to file lawsuit after lawsuit with the goal of hitting jackpot justice. They relentlessly inundate us with television, radio, and newspaper ads with potentially misleading information and promises of lawsuit riches.
“These out-of-state lawyers need to know that West Virginia is not for sale, and that should include our courtrooms.”
He said the “out-of-state millionaire personal injury lawyers are playing the lawsuit lottery again here in West Virginia.”
“I’m sure they’ll be discussing this in law school ethics classes for here to come,” Stauffer said.
Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper, an attorney who has worked with the McHugh Fuller firm on cases before, blasted WV CALA and its stance in this matter on a radio show after Stauffer appeared talking about it.
“That was the most twisted one-sided call I’ve heard in my life,” Carper told Mike Queen, a guest host on Hoppy Kercheval’s TalkLine program on MetroNews. “I know those lawyers. I’ve worked with those lawyers. CALA is funded by who? Their contributions aren’t disclosed. Their membership isn’t disclosed. But it’s the insurance industry. …
“This was a case where a citizen of West Virginia went to a nursing home. They didn’t give her water, and she died of thirst. … in pain. That’s what really happened. But, the system worked pretty well. The verdict was reduced by about 70 percent by the Supreme Court.”
Carper, a partner at Hill Peterson Carper Bee & Deitzler, said more when contacted by The West Virginia Record.
“This is nothing less than jury tampering,” Carper said, referring to WV CALA’s actions. “I’m sick and tired of these ridiculous attacks on our judges. …
“If I were them, I’d go into a closed dark room and search my soul.”
On Aug. 4, the Daily Caller posted a story about the matter called “Justice For Sale: Appearance of Impropriety in High Court.”
“When attorney Michael Fuller’s private Learjet landed in West Virginia in June 2016, he brought millions of dollars worth of unwelcome memories with him,” the Daily Caller story begins, adding that “sources with knowledge of an investigation say Fuller is the subject of a law enforcement probe.”
Last year, Fuller told The West Virginia Record that neither he nor his firm did anything wrong. He said the jet purchase was handled by a broker firm, and he didn’t know the plane was owned by Segal until the purchase nearly was complete.
The Daily Caller story says GKG Law in Washington, D.C., handled the sale. It is a firm that specializes in corporate aviation acquisitions. The Daily Caller reports that GKG attorney Katharine Meyer “incorporated a shell entity called GKG Acquisitions CLXIV on July 1, 2011, solely for the Segal-Fuller transaction (the corporation was dissolved on July 10, 2012, shortly after the sale was successfully executed).”
The report says GKG Acquisitions took possession of the aircraft from another entity, Alpine Air Inc., on Sept. 12, 2011. Records list Segal as president and incorporator, and the entity’s address is Segal’s law firm.
“The plane was purchased by a third shell entity, MF Property Management, from GKG Acquisitions on December 30, 2011, according to Federal Aviation Administration registration records,” the Daily Caller reports. “Fuller’s name is the only name publicly associated with the entity, whose principal address in Hattiesburg, Mississippi is the same as the McHugh Fuller Law Group.”